Mindfulness has really “taken off” in our western culture. It is a much-needed remedy for the fast-paced, high-stress modern lives we live. Mindfulness and meditation can be an amazing way to learn to slow down, breathe and reduce the stresses and anxiety in our lives. However, with the rapid adoption of mindfulness in the west, some of the most valuable and transformative aspects of the practice may be lost as we practice in new and modern ways.
Meditation is Not a Solitary Sport
One myth of the modern mindfulness movement is that meditation is meant to be practiced alone. Modern technology has enabled millions of people to experience the benefits of meditation by simply plugging in our headphones and listening to guided meditations on demand wherever we are. This quick and easy access to a teacher and guidance is a wonderful thing, offering many of the incredible benefits of meditation and easy access to transformative practices. What may have been lost in this marriage of meditation and technology, however, is one of the most important and beautiful aspects of meditation, the power of human connection.
In fact, ancient Buddhist teachings, from which modern secular mindfulness practices originate, explain that the Sangha, the Sanskrit word for community, is one of the most important parts of the practice, if not the most important part. The Buddha (the teacher), the Dharma (the teaching), and the Sangha (the community) are referred to as the “three precious jewels” of Buddhism. Buddhist teachings explain that the most important of these jewels is the Sangha because both the teaching and the teacher can be found in the community, and taking refuge and placing your trust in a community of like-minded people who practice together is the key to a deep and transformative experience.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Buddhist monk and author of many best-selling books on mindfulness practice, explains that practicing meditation together is much more than community building, “it is a wonderful opportunity to allow the collective energy of the Sangha to penetrate into our body and consciousness.”
Anyone who has meditated in a group has likely experienced the power of group meditation. Part of the benefit comes from the simple fact that it helps us create a new habit by inspiring us to show up and practice. By committing to a group, we are more accountable and less likely to quit. Group practice also helps us stay focused and motivated, and provides us with a safe and comforting community in which to explore meditation. But the benefit of group practice is more than that. There is a deep sense of community and support when we show up together to sit and breathe.
I have been amazed away over the past few months at the incredible power of group meditation. I practice alone every day, sitting lotus-style at home, closing my eyes for at least 20 minutes of quiet breathing, which is profoundly restorative and healing. I also have the great pleasure of sitting with a variety of meditation groups each week. In some groups, I am a participant or student. In other groups, I have the great honor of teaching and leading the practice. In my experience, the power of group practice is profound. As we sit together, we learn from one another and share our experiences.
As a Founding Teacher on Journey LIVE, I have the pleasure of leading live group meditations each evening. People join me every night to connect, unwind and breathe. Just last night during my 9 pm Journey LIVE meditation, I was blown away as we practiced a heart-opening meditation. Afterward, many of the community members joining to meditate from all across the country and the world, commented on how powerful the practice was and how connected they felt to the group. Even in this new and innovative way to participate in group meditation, people are feeling the power of connection and community. (If you want to try Journey LIVE for free, click here to learn how.)
A Remedy for The Epidemic of Loneliness in Our Cutlure
Another important benefit of group practice is the formation of community and connection in a world where we are feeling more and more alone and isolated. New research shows that we are experiencing an epidemic of loneliness in our modern culture that is not only leading to a sharp rise in unhappiness, depression, and anxiety across all age groups, but it is also leading to an increased risk of health problems, including heart attacks, stroke, and cancer, and may even shorten a person’s lifespan.
In meditation communities, we can break down that feeling of isolation and separateness and see our similarities, understand our common struggles, and realize that we are not alone or separate. One of my wonderful meditation teachers, Vinny Ferraro, uses the phrase, “See me. Don’t see me.” This refers to how we often want people to see the attractive, perfect side of ourselves, and we want to hide our imperfections (especially true on social media). In a meditation community, however, we learn to embrace each other in an open-minded and nonjudgmental way as we recognize the truth that no one’s life is perfect (despite how it may appear on social media) and we are all doing the best that we can.
In group practice, we share our common experiences, our challenges and struggles, our joys and simple pleasures, and the intensity of our human experience. We no longer have to fear being seen or judged. Instead, we learn to embrace and see all of ourselves and accept ourselves just as we are so we can live more authentically, fully and lovingly. Similarly, we learn to be open to others in a non-judgmental, openhearted and compassionate way so that we can truly see each other just as we are, imperfections and all.
So join a meditation group, try a class or join me on Journey LIVE and experience for yourself the power of community practice!